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The art of communication – practice makes perfect

  • Published
  • By Capt. Jessica Brown
  • 6th Air Mobility Wing Public Affairs

This is one of three commentaries on “Live communication, professionalism and respect.”  

We hear it all the time: communication can make or break an organization. In our case, it can lead to mission degradation, or worse, mission failure.  

However, it’s more than just simple communication; it’s effective communication. Most people assume since they’ve been speaking since before they could walk, reading since they were in kindergarten and writing soon after that, they are masters at communication.  

Communication is an art, a skill that needs to be exercised and practiced until mastered. We have all probably been in a situation of miscommunication and thought to ourselves, “Well, if I had just known those details!”     

When I was a young second lieutenant, a sharp master sergeant I worked with was my communication role model. By his example, I learned three simple approaches to effective communication.

Always be respectful and conscious of friendly teasing. We had an Airman who was from a certain region in the U.S. and she had a unique accent.  I once teased her about it, because I thought it was a “cute” accent. What I didn’t know, was that teasing wasn’t received well, and if anything, it caused my Airmen to resent me. When my master sergeant told me how the Airman felt, I of course felt horrible and embarrassed. 

I suppose, if I hadn’t been corrected I could have trampled on someone’s values and beliefs, and offended someone I worked with. Looking back, I see how that could make things awkward in the work place; putting a strain on relationships and potentially putting the mission in jeopardy.

Be approachable. Everyone has heard of the supervisor who keeps his door closed and doesn’t attend any of the office functions or just isn’t approachable. Have you ever asked how someone’s day is going in the hallway? Do you have a resident Eeyore from Winnie the Pooh? (Eeyore is generally characterized as a pessimistic, gloomy and depressed character who thinks life is all doom and gloom). If you do, you know after a while, you don’t want to ask how their day is going, because you already know it’s going horribly. This person is unapproachable, basically because Eeyore is a bore.

When healthy communication lines are open between Airmen, leaders and commanders, it can directly affect the mission, because Airmen feel trusted and empowered to be bold and make bold decisions. In a snow ball effect, this directly contributes to innovation and solutions to everyday problems.  

Listen. Effective communication is a two-way street. Most communication formulas show person one talks, then person two talks and so forth. Studies show, often times while person one is talking, person two isn’t fully listening, they are preparing their retort to what person one is in the midst of saying. 

Effective listening requires concentration, awareness and tolerance. This means intently focusing on what the speaker is saying. Awareness means reading the body language of the speaker and using that to better understand their message. Finally, tolerance requires keeping an open mind to their claims or beliefs, rather than being judgmental, confrontational or defensive.   

While I recommend these three highlights above, I also recommend you make every effort to communicate in person. This way, your chances of receiving and delivering the appropriate message increase greatly.

How often do you go to another office with an issue? How often do you fire off an email requesting assistance, versus going over to the agency or calling? With a boom in technology and the advent of the internet and email, we rely more on this technology to communicate more than ever before. Technology makes it easier to communicate rapidly – but is it really easier if there are misunderstandings? Can you relay true compassion in an email? Have you ever meant to be funny in an email and it came off as snarky or sarcastic? 

When communicators listen, are respectful and approachable, the intended information is properly relayed. Thus, problem solving and innovation can take place and thrive. Frustrations can be eased and Airmen will feel valued because their concerns were heard and acknowledged. With practice, we each can become better communicators.